UCE Birmingham's Technology Innovation Centre (TIC) has been awarded membership of Microsoft's developer network academic alliance - giving students free access to a dvanced software programmes worth hundreds of pounds.

Already established as one of Microsoft's top UK, universityb ased academies, TIC's enhanced status also gives students another important advantage - access to the extensive library of software on their home computers.

The centre says this will be particular help to those seeking to advance their careers through studying part-time on degree or professional development courses.

Dozens of extra programmes are becoming progressively available, including many only accessible for expenditure running into hundreds of pounds.

An example of the newly available software is Virtual PC, which even enables students to explore the develop-ment of a whole computer-network on their own home PC.

TIC's Microsoft co-ordinator, Rehan Bhana, said: "There is an immediate benefit to students studying Microsoft modules on information and comm unication technology courses, software design and computer networks.

"BSc, foundation degree and professional development certificate students can all freely take advantage of the software.

"However, any TIC students with Microsoft-based modules in their courses can also gain access to the software."

The range of programmes is made available through a server operated under the eAcademy name, and offered in partnership with Microsoft itself.

It is the e-Academy licence system which offers the student access. However, this will terminate with the student's completion of the course.

TIC's e-business centre manager, George Squires - who recently addressed Microsoft's major conference in Dallas on TIC's teaching methods - said: "The MSDNAA appointment is a great step forward. This free resource is a great boon to TIC students who will be glad of such help at a time when course fees are due to rise."

Microsoft's developer network was originally developed for commercial programmers.

It was designed to be a pool o f Microsoft-based programmes and software which commercial users themselves had developed. This voluntary s haring-community has become a virtual library which can be browsed by subscribing organisations.

The most recent develop-ment has been to develop the academic alliance to help official academic Microsoft training institutions such as TIC. Access to MSDNAA helps develop both staff and student expertise and knowledge.

* Anyone seeking information about Microsoft related courses at TIC should phone 0121 331 6400 or e-mail course.enquiries@tic.ac.uk